Conquering Headstand at Age 61: Sivananda Yoga Posture Stories
Over time, our experience of yoga asanas evolves beyond the physical — the postures become our teachers and companions, showing us our relationship with ourselves and the world. Enjoy this collection of stories submitted by Sivananda Yoga practitioners from around the world, sharing their in-depth connections with each asana of the Sivananda sequence.
I remember asking James, my first yoga teacher at a yoga studio in Chicago, “'Why would I ever want to learn a headstand?'
In my prior yoga experiences at Bikram and Core Power studios, headstands were not part of the practices they taught … and besides, I was 60 years old.
During my year practicing at the Chicago studio, I started working on my headstand — but only with the assistance of a wall. There was still fear wrapped around the headstand in my mind, like it was an elusive posture I’d never master. And truthfully, I didn’t care if I did or not.
In 2015, I visited the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas for my first ever yoga vacation. Practicing yoga outdoors while listening to the rush of the ocean inspired me to progress. I practiced yoga twice daily for the week. In the classes, headstands were referred to as "the king of asanas" and one of the best postures for allowing blood to flow through the body. They were done on the mat with no wall support. Even with the touted benefits, I was afraid to try it.
One of the first days I was at the ashram, there was a headstand workshop. I was doubtful but I had practiced yoga the day before with Ambika Katie, who was leading the workshop, and I thought she was a great teacher. So I gave it a try.
There were about 10 to 12 people in the workshop, and we were each at different stages of the headstand. Once there, I felt even more doubtful that I would get enough help to be able to do the posture.
Ambika Katie broke down each of the eight steps for doing the headstand, demonstrating each one. She recommended that we get really comfortable and steady at each step before moving to the next step. This was the first key for me.
I usually kicked up with straight legs, but now I practiced step-by-step, bending my knees and bringing my feet in toward my hips, holding my feet off the ground. I practiced just these steps quite a few times. Once I was solid in this position, she explained that I could lift my knees upward first by guiding my heels back, before extending my legs. This was the second key.
I focused on my heels and my knees automatically lifted up, forming a straight line from my head up to my knees. Again, I practiced this quite a few times before I was steady. The last step was simple because I was solid in the other steps. I lifted my feet — and that was all it took to be in a steady headstand! Now I've got it for life.
The most interesting part to me was that I was steady, not shaky. That first time, I held the position for 30 to 45 seconds before I came down. And it was only when I started worrying about how long I could hold the pose that I felt the need to come down.
I tried it a few more times in the workshop and each time I gained confidence. I even felt brave enough to try the headstand in yoga class after a couple days of practicing on my own. By the end of the week, I felt confident and comfortable holding the headstand for a couple of minutes.
I now do headstands as a regular part of my practice. I teach others to do headstands too — and I’ve even led a headstand workshop at the ashram. I'm now 63 years old, soon to be 64. It's never too late to learn something new.
Every week from January 1 – March 26, 2018, we will be sharing a new story — You can access all of the current ones here.